‘We Do Things That Make Us Feel Good Rather Than Things That Do Good’

0 Posted by - June 13, 2013 - Science & Tech, Think
Bjorn Lomborg, Environmentalist, in conversation with Avalok Langer at THiNK 2011

AL GORE kicked up a fuss about global warmingbut now we need to cool it down. Not to blame him alone but the idea that everything about our environment is getting worse is just not true. The facts are: yes it’s a real problem, but it’s not the end of the world. And we need to understand that we are only going to fix this in the next 50-100 years.

Not all solutions are valuable. Some cost a lot and do very little; some are cheap and do enormous good. Shouldn’t we do the cheap and smart ones first? We have been going down our present path for 20 years and we haven’t moved. We should help people by looking at the problems at hand and by investing in research. If you lived in New Orleans in 2004, would you have spent on cutting carbon emissions that’d have negligible effect by the end of the century or would you have rather spent on building better levies?

When it comes to global warming, we tend to focus on things that make us feel good rather than things that are going to do good. We put up one solar panel and feel like we have solved the problem, we change a light bulb and feel all virtuous, we shut off our lights off for one hour on one Saturday and say, “Oh, I’m really helping the world.”

Spending money on solar power is an incredibly poor way to help the environment. The Germans will spend $75 billion by the end of this century to postpone global warming by seven hours ($1,000 per tonne of CO2) — that’s just silly, since you can cut carbon emissions by spending a few dollars per ton. Similarly, you don’t need to spend billions to cool down cities. Just do these simple things — plant more trees, create more water features and paint the asphalt and rooftops light colours.

The European Union has decided to cut emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels, by 2020; this will cost them $250 billion a year ($20 trillion total) to reduce temperatures by 0.05 degrees. When we asked top climate economists at the Copenhagen Convention, they said for every dollar spent you only save 3 cents of climate damage; instead, spend it on R&D, where for every dollar spent you will save $11 of climate damage. That’s a good deal. Take the EU’s proposed $250 billion per year and spend 1. $100 billion on green energy R&D to solve global warming in the medium term, 2. $50 billion on inland and coastal protection and making cities cooler and 3. $100 billion on fixing all the other basic problems — drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, education and food for everyone.

What would you rather be remembered for — spending $250 billion and not being able to measure the difference in temperature by century end or spending it to fix climate change, fix the impacts of climate change and fix all the basic challenges in your world right now?